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Pacioretty's Season, Gionta's Worth, Subban's Reality...

April 7, 2014, 10:34 AM ET [1599 Comments]
Habs Talk
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1) Did any of you turn off the television after the Ottawa Senators took a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes of their game with the Montreal Canadiens Friday? I'm wagering most of you didn't.

That was quite an explosive (or implosive) performance, and over the last couple of games between these teams, there's certainly been some sense of hockey karma. None more evident than Eric Gryba being victimized by Lars Eller for a nice goal (it would've been the winner, had Mika Zibanejad not popped one with five minutes left in the hockey game).

2) It's been a slow building process since Alexei Emelin ran through plenty of peaks and valleys post-reconstructive knee surgery, but all of a sudden, the water's boiling.

Since the game in Boston, Emelin's stabilized, and he's found the consistency that many thought would be elusive until next season--myself included. As the coach put it Saturday, after another great outing, this time against the Detroit Red Wings, Emelin's back where he was--physically--and he's tough to play against.

This is good news for the Canadiens.

3) A lot has been made of the way Michel Therrien's handled P.K. Subban. There's no way to know, short of Subban being brutally honest about it, whether or not the tough love approach has been of any sort of benefit to Subban. We know he's elevated his game when it's been in question, but we can't tangibly discern whether the coach's bullying helped stimulate that.

Same way we can't say with any degree of certainty that Therrien's treatment of Subban has largely effected him in a negative way.

Here's what we do know:

a) Right now, Subban's not playing his best hockey.
b) Right now, the coaching staff isn't relying on him, in light of the fact that he's not at his best.
c) Subban has all the necessary talent, smarts and composure to find and play his best game.

A lot of the focus in naturally on what will happen moving forward, with a contract negotiation looming overhead for Subban and GM Marc Bergevin. But, it's already been stated by both parties that nothing will happen before the off-season, so the focus should be entirely on the now.

Right now, Subban has to play better.

4) As for the long-term. Here's the scenario:

Subban wants to be a Canadien.

The Canadiens want Subban to be a Canadien.

Subban has the leverage this time around. He's two years from unrestricted free agency, and if he doesn't like the long-term deal Bergevin has to offer him, he can go to arbitration and probably gain a two-year award worth at least $7 million/season.

If Bergevin allows that to happen, he may as well kiss Subban goodbye, because by the time he comes out of that two year deal, he'll be worth much more than the $8 million he'll have to pay him per season, over an 8-year deal signed now.

Bergevin has to do everything in his power to keep Subban under $8 million/season. That's his only challenge. There's no question he wants to go long with Subban, but there's a ceiling to the amount he can give out on the contract, and the way things have gone this season, he may have the ammunition to keep it under $8 million, but obviously not by much.

A tremendous playoffs for Subban would probably give him all the leverage he needs to hold out for maximum value, but would also give Bergevin less pause about signing the deal Subban's likely to get no matter where he ends up.

There's no question, this negotiation will be difficult, and yes, the discussions will certainly poke at sensitivities on both sides, but none of this is as paramount as Subban finding his best game, right now, when the Canadiens need it most.

As for Subban's relationship with the coach; none of that's a quick fix, nor should anyone expect that they'll be best friends moving forward. But, it's largely assumed their current relationship is completely dysfunctional, and I'm not sure either party sees it that way. And things have appeared a lot rosier between the two when Subban's played his best hockey, but that could be as much of a mirage as their supposed feud could be.

5) Moving on, let's talk about Max Pacioretty for a second. You know, the guy who's scored 37 goals since November 19th (58 games).

Obviously, Pacioretty's been remarkable with 60 points in 70 games. Pretty impressive for a guy who got hurt in the first game of the season against Toronto, missed the following game in Philadelphia before returning to the lineup four days later against Calgary.

Pacioretty scored his first goal of the season in Montreal's next game, in Edmonton, on October 10th. The team traveled to Vancouver on the 12th, and Pacioretty managed his second goal of the season. He missed eight games with strained hamstring, then he went eight games without scoring a goal, until Minnesota came to the Bell Centre, November 19th, and Pacioretty got on the board with a natural hat-trick.

Pacioretty got hurt the game before the Olympics, but declared himself fit to go to Sochi. Shortly after his return to Montreal, the well dried up again for seven games from March 6th-March 20th. Since then, he's scored nine goals in his last eight games.

Three hat-tricks, 11 game-winning goals. Hell of a season for this guy, and he's not quite done yet.

6) Sent out a few tweets over the weekend about who the most under-appreciated Hab is. Without a doubt, in my mind, it's Brian Gionta.

This isn't a lobby to get him a new contract. We all know that Bergevin doesn't want to lose Gionta, but he can't afford to offer him anything until the bigger fish are fried. That likely means no offer for the Canadiens captain before July 1st, and the obvious exposure to losing him on the open market.

And make no mistake, it is a loss.

No, the Canadiens wouldn't be losing the guy who scored 28 and 29 goals, respectively in his first two seasons with the club. They'd be losing a great leader; a guy everyone in that room has great respect for; a guy who gives it his all in every game; a guy who's taken on a lesser role, but has played a pivotal one on one of the league's elite penalty killing units.

Gionta scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season against Detroit Saturday, in what was his 300th game as a Montreal Canadien. Over his 300 games with the team, he's scored 96 goals, and added 76 assists for 172 points. Over that time, he's a +4. His role in the 2010 playoffs was paramount to the team's success (9 goals, 6 assists, in 19 games).

Now let's talk about what he's been through the last two years. When he first tore the distal tendon in his left arm, he got more than an off-season to recover. The lockout gave him enough time to rebuild his biceps from scratch. That's why he managed a very respectable 14 goals in 48 games last season. The second time around, he tore the distal tendon in his right arm during the first game of Montreal's playoff series with Ottawa, and he still dressed for a game in the series and tried to play with the injury (which is impossible, as he had no strength whatsoever in his right arm--the lower arm on his stick which is where power is generated on a shot).

Gionta didn't have the luxury of time on his recovery. He started this season at a different stage of recuperation than he did the season before. In light of that, the 17 goals and 22 assists he's put up this season are rather respectable, nevermind the intangibles he brings and the defensive presence he's been against top competition on a nightly basis.

People have criticized the role he was given at the start of the season, but the truth was that he couldn't be relegated to his current role until Thomas Vanek changed the depth chart dramatically. Even so, Therrien was reluctant to push Gionta down given everything the captain has given of himself. He certainly earned that respect. And he's gracefully taken on his new role with great enthusiasm--putting up a few of his best games as a Canadien (the one in Boston easily comes to mind).

So think twice before labeling him "the worst captain in Habs history". It's a stupid frame to evoke. It's not his fault he hasn't played on the legendary teams of decades gone by, and though he's certainly not the most offensively prolific player to wear the "C" for the Canadiens, he's proven his worth in many different ways. Most importantly, those following his lead appreciate everything he does.

7) Josh Gorges is slated to return Wednesday, in Chicago. Not sure what that means for Nathan Beaulieu, who couldn't get into Saturday's game against Detroit because Jarred Tinordi was fantastic against the Senators, earning his ice against the Red Wings.

Therrien could've scratched Bouillon to test out Beaulieu, but it seems clear that the coach doesn't have much interest in having two rookies on his blue line.

Gorges' return is likely to push Bouillon out. That makes it a competition between Tinordi, Beaulieu and Doug Murray for the final spot on the blueline. And we know how Therrien feels about Murray...

8) As for Mike Weaver--you know, the guy no one thought would have any impact--who's a +11 in 14 games; there's no way this guy is coming out of the lineup.

Tinordi and Beaulieu are going to have to work very hard to try to edge out Murray for a spot against Tampa Bay in the first round. And it's a possibility one of them will be relied on for part of that series.

9) The Habs play Chicago and the Islanders back-to-back, Wednesday and Thursday.

Should Michel Therrien give Andrei Markov a rest on night two?

Seems like a wise idea. Especially if the Habs beat Chicago on Wednesday.

10) Assuming Price plays two of the three remaining games on the Canadiens schedule, that puts him at 59 starts this year. Hardly overtaxed--and naturally that would've been more had he not missed all that time post-Olympics.

The Habs couldn't have planned it this way, but he sure looks as fresh as he has all season, and that is great news for them heading into the playoffs.
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